The elephant in the gigabit network room

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Getting to gigabit networks isn’t a cheap proposition, and once they are deployed, they generally cost more than the average person can afford. For example, a gigabit connection in Chattanooga, Tenn. one of several towns offering such a service costs more than $300 a month. Even if one can’t get a gig, even a 100 Mbps connection or so can cost about $120 or so. Which means that for most broadband supporters, even ardent ones such as myself, the elephant in the room is: Why spend that much, when for today’s applications, a cable modem offering 12-14 Mbps down will do just fine?

It’s a question that analysts posed of Verizon(s vz), when they pressed the company that deployed the nation’s largest fiber-to-home network, about take-up rates and boosting subscribers for FiOS. It’s a question Google seeks to answer with its own plans to build out a gigabit network in Kansas City, Kan. and Kansas City, Mo. And it’s also a question we need to focus more on even as the siren song of mobile connectivity and apps tempts developers to think smaller.

“It’s ironic that the app that is having the most effect and making a big difference is Twitter, which is the most narrow band application imaginable,” says Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic.Net. “Something similar has to occur in broadband as it gets faster and faster and it gets more ubiquitous.”

Jasper’s ISP is overlaying fiber to the home in Sebastopol, Calif. where it already deployed an ADSL2 network. Subscribers can pay $40 a month for wireline voice and 100 Mbps FTTH broadband, or they can pay $70 for two lines and get a gigabit. Those seem more like the economics that Google is looking for when it sells its network, but until later this year when it should announce pricing, we’re still unsure what it plans to offer.

But tests from Jasper’s initial deployment speak to some problems the industry will need to overcome if we want gigabit networks to become the norm. For starters, there’s the equipment. Computers today aren’t geared up to support gigabit connections and current Wi-Fi networks couldn’t offer those speeds either. Jasper says the first trial of the gigabit network was a speed test on a generic laptop that showed off 420 Mbps down; the laptop couldn’t handle a full gig.

That’s fine, because there aren’t that many applications that need those speeds. Perhaps the most compelling use case I can think if right now is if you wanted to subscribe to a new online backup service and upload your images, music and movies all at once. A gigabit could help you complete the task in minutes as opposed to hours or days. But that’s a one-time kind of benefit — consumers will need everyday benefits if they are going to upgrade their broadband. Yet, network operators have a hard time justifying an investment in a network that will get few subscribers and application developers have little incentive to develop programs for the few on gigabit networks.

So we’re stuck at a point where a gigabit — or even 100 Mbps – sounds awesome, but it’s not exactly worth the prices most companies want (or need to charge). This is why Google’s and Sonic.Net’s plans to expand moderately priced 100 Mbps and gigabit networks will be so important.

“If every consumer has 100 Mbps, we’d have some better applications,” Jasper said. ” At 100 Mbps, high-def video conferencing becomes a reality and you don’t need local storage anymore. You don’t even need local computing.” He pointed me to this awesome video as an example of what might happen, ya’ know, just in case anybody wants to build those next-generation applications.

49 Comments

Bruce

Gotta say this is the most ridiculous perspective ever. I’m wondering if this is a plant or ploy to extend the horribly slow stuff being sold off the shelves for as long as possible to st as ll any new last mile developments or she is a backwards thinker.

If you make the network faster then in a few months the industry will release just the very next version that will work with whatever protocol or speed is cutting edge.

Gigabit networks are already here. It’s the cable companies and Ma Bell who are stinting the growth of faster more robust machines by hoarding current technology and dragging their heels on getting last mile gigabit to the home plus threatening local governments get fiber to the premise far faster than their marketing dept’s can walk across the street.

If you think we will stand to wait for quad core smatphone be the end of 2012 then you’re in the wrong business baby.

Robert J. Berger

In 1980 few consumers knew what a personal computer was let alone wanted it.

“I have to say that in 1981, making those decisions, I felt like I was providing enough freedom for 10 years. That is, a move from 64k to 640k felt like something that would last a great deal of time. Well, it didn’t – it took about only 6 years before people started to see that as a real problem.
Bill Gates 1989 speech on the history of the microcomputer industry.

In 1993 almost no consumers knew what the Internet was, let alone wanted it.

In 2012, a Duopoly controls Internet Access in most of the US and is doing its best to make sure Americans will never experience a Gigabit to find out what they want from that.

Its time to decouple Internet transport from people who want to control content and charge a toll for every byte even though the cost of delivering bandwidth is dropping faster than Moore’s Law.

Divestiture Now! Get the BellHeads and CableButts out of the Internet.

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